Simone’s story: using OmniGraffle to draw comics

by Linda Sharps on April 19, 2010

You guys, I hope you're not getting sick of our customer stories, but even if you ARE, you should stick around for this one. Because it's awesome. And involves monsters. 

Today we're going to be taking a look at how a comic artist uses OmniGraffle as his primary drawing tool, thanks to some fantastic info sent in by Simone Poggi. Simone is a developer/designer/illustrator who draws comics in his spare time—he's currently publishing his fantasy comic Another One Quest to Dust on the App Store, and he's working on an Android survival fantasy game as well. 

He writes,

I use Graffle to draw, it's like paper and pencil for me. Over the years Graffle has become my primary drawing tool, extending the way I create stuff to a whole new level. Today my skill with Graffle neatly surpass my freehand drawing abilities.

I have to say, out of the many ways I've seen OmniGraffle being used, I think this might be one of the most fun. It's never even occurred to me that you could create an entire comic with OmniGraffle, but of course you can! It just goes to show that my rejected marketing tagline, "OmniGraffle: Not Just For Diagramming Although It Is Very Good At Diagramming All We're Saying is That You Can, Like, Totally Use it for Other Stuff Too", was right all along.

Simone tells us which features are most helpful for him:

I really love the way Graffle manages the Bezier shapes and colors because it's really, really simple and intuitive, but at the same time it's powerful. You can easily create any shape, apply a color or a texture to it, set the desired transparency, and change a thousand options (gradients, shadows, rotation, scale, etc) to perfectly fit your needs. You can finely set your working area by giving your desired resolution in various unit measures.The level/layer/working area options are really useful as well to manage images, background and graphical effects in a separate way, without interfering with other parts of the image. Furthermore the export function works great and you can export in a wide array of filetypes, deciding (if allowed by the format) to set a transparent background or not.

You're thinking, that's great and all, but how does one go about drawing shiny stuff that rocks in OmniGraffle? Well, it is mighty convenient that you phrased your thoughts in that specific way, because Simone put together a tutorial to show you exactly how to do this. Let's take a look (Simone's instructions are in bold):

Start with a blank document, then:

Click on the Pen Tool (what Simone is describing as "new bezier shape") and place the points in the drawing area as shown in the above picture. Hold "command" key and drag one point away to generate a bezier curve from the selected point. If you need an asymmetric spline, just hold "alt" key while dragging the vector, this would modify only one vector of them instead of both.

We have a fine head shape: add the eyes from the stencils (drag out circles from the Shape stencil), resize and place them at the proper position

Now we have to tweak the line's details to improve the epicness factor of our masterpiece. We will enhance the thickness of the head's shape by selecting it, and setting to 4 pixels.

(Hee. Improving the epicness factor.)

Let's give some color to our creation. First, the background: change the color through the inspector button in the "fill" tab. Repeat and do the same for the eyes and the head as shown below:

Our work is almost ready! Now let's add some shinies with a glass effect!

Copy / paste the head shape, then add a new circle:

Select both the new head and the newly created circle, go to "edit" > "shapes" > "intersect shapes" menu. We now have a new object, shaped as the intersection from the head's shape and the new circle's shape.

Edit the newly obtained shape as follows: 

 

… and place it over the original head:

 

Our monster now is quite nice, but it looks like he's floating in air, let's fix this!

Through the stencil panel insert a new circle, then change his properties as follows:

- shape the circle as an oval

- fill with solid color: black 30% transparency

- no border, no shadow

Now we have to put this shadow under the monster: select the shape, then click on the "send to background" button:

Finished! Our masterpiece is done for now! You may save and exit or export your creation in various formats, to share it with your friends and with your enemies, too.

Hello, AWESOME. I know what I'll be doing for the rest of my afternoon. Monsters ahoy!

I asked Simone if there was anything he could change about OmniGraffle, and he conceded there are a few things that bug him:

Each time I double-click somewhere (as I often do when I try to insert additional points to a previuosly created shape) Graffle adds a text label. I hate that feature and I wanna kill it personally from a menu option in the preferences.

Yes, this can be annoying—I've encountered it too. Be sure that when you're double-clicking to add a point, you're doing so on the edge of the shape itself so you won't get that pesky label.

There is no way to draw an "open" Bezier shape. Every time you create a new shape, you can only choose between applying a border to it or nor. It would be great if I can choose to create a "broken shape" in a fast way. Actually i have to draw the shape and then redraw a Bezier Line over it.

Gotcha. Our intrepid OmniGraffle product manager, Joel, tells me this is a filed feature request, so hopefully you'll see it addressed in an upcoming release. Also, just so you know, this feature is currently implemented in OmniGraffle for iPad.

I'd really like to use gradient colors for the lines as it is now for the shape's area.

A workaround idea: create a slightly smaller shape, and place it on top of the larger shape so you can see the outline. Voila, hacked gradient outline!

Graffle still does not make coffee! Please stop disappointing me and implement this feature.

Simone, I could not agree with you more. I am emailing our engineers RIGHT NOW to find out the reasoning behind this critical design flaw.

A huge thank you to Simone for providing all this great information. You can find Simone on his website, and check out his Another One Quest to Dust comic online or on the App Store. If you'd like a copy of the OmniGraffle file he used to create this tutorial, you can download it here

Customer story: managing work tasks with OmniFocus

by Linda Sharps on April 12, 2010

Welcome to another post in our ongoing series of real-life customer stories, which are kind of like case studies only hopefully a little less prone to making the claim that our "innovative solutions" are improving anyone's "bottom line". Let it be known that we here at Omni feel it's inappropriate to monkey with your bottom line.

Today we're talking about OmniFocus, and how Mr. Tim Metz, managing director of Yourzine China, makes good use of it. Tim writes,

My brain relies on OmniFocus so much these days I could be considered a "junkie" if it were a drug. I often consider sending my short term memory on a permanent holiday to the Bahamas as OmniFocus does all the work for me: managing my email, keeping track of delegated tasks and remembering those valuable ideas that seem to pop up at the strangest of moments for future use. 

(I love everything about this, and yet I think there's room for improvement. Could OmniFocus and my short term memory get together on the emails and whatnot while the rest of me takes that Bahamas vacation? I'm going to file a feature request.)

Tim's a GTD fan, and uses OmniFocus to support those methodologies:

To me OmniFocus is really the next logical step in the evolution of personal organization: (1) using a classic paper to do list - (2) your inbox is your to do list - (3) the Getting Things Done method - (4) OmniFocus.  David Allen so strikingly describes what happens when you use your inbox as your todo list: you lose the overview and you find yourself repeatedly skipping certain hard to-do items over and over again. Moving from that behavior to the GTD system is then a revelation. However, as things get more and more busy, I found the same happens with the GTD system: it's hard to keep track of all your next actions, emails and projects, even when you have them nicely organized in folders, your calendar and a word document. As soon as you lose trust in your system, you will start worrying about forgetting things and can't focus on the task at hand with a clear mind, which is the goal after all. This is where OmniFocus comes in.

What I love most about OmniFocus is that it allows me to capture everything I need to do in one place. No more mail folders with "next actions" or word documents where you might forget to look, everything goes to OmniFocus. The best example of this is email. Running a 30-people internet marketing agency in China, I have a daily steady stream of email to be dealt with that is challenging to say the least. Of course I stick to the rule of trying to handle things that can be done in under 2 minutes immediately, but sometimes you just don't want to deal with something at that moment but also make sure you don't forget about it. With OmniFocus I press one button, add a due date and hit enter and the email is filed for later review, without ever having to leave my mail program. 

 

 

Upon switching to OmniFocus at a later stage, I sort all my tasks in a custom made "due" view and I'm sure I won't miss the email that has to be dealt with, but I do it at my convenience and without having to worry about forgetting it.

 

 

Another great feature is the way "contexts" can be used. Contexts are the extended versions of "locations" as described by David Allen. So you assign a "home" context to tasks that can only be done at home, an "office" context to things that can only be done at the office and I use an "iPhone" context for websites that I want to check out and can easily read on my iPhone. 

My favorite context though is the "waiting" context. In this special context, I park all the important tasks that I have delegated to other people. Not every little wishy washy thing of course, because my colleagues are very capable of managing their own work, but assignments that are critical and can't be forgotten about no matter what. By safely storing them in this context and adding a recurring task for myself to check the "waiting" context every other day, I help myself to be a thoughtful manager for my colleagues and inquire at the right moment about the progress of certain tasks and if there's anything I can do to help.

 

 

Talking about people and contexts: another great way of using contexts is by adding people you interact with a lot as a context. For me this greatly helps to reduce the mailflow between my colleagues and me. Often mails go back and forth several times on a topic while it could be dealt with in a minute if you were to discuss it face-to-face with each other. On the other hand you also don't want to stand next to someone's desk every hour. Here the "people" context is great: when my colleague Bruce sends me an email that I want to further discuss with him, I file it to the context "Bruce" and leave it at that for the moment. Then whenever I have a meeting with Bruce, I'll check his context on my iPhone while entering the meeting and discuss with him in person the issues that are listed there. Much better than a chain of emails that can span a whole day.

 

 

This brings me to the iPhone OmniFocus app. Since it syncs with OmniFocus on my computer over the WiFi of our office, I use OmniFocus to take notes during meetings. My experience is that most meetings lead to actions / tasks, and previously my assistant or me would write them down on a piece of paper. However, after having several meetings in a day, I would have multiple papers with multiple actions that still had to go into my GTD system or OmniFocus. It often ended up not happening if I had a lot of notes. 

Now I have my iPhone during the meeting and record tasks directly into OmniFocus during the meeting. Not only will it be synced immediately with my computer, I don't have to process the written notes anymore and I can even add a "context", "project" and if necessary "due date" on the spot, right there in the meeting.

 

 

Last but not least is reviewing, one of the most crucial parts of the GTD method. If you don't review regularly and update what has been done, which next actions still need to be answered, etc. the whole GTD system will fall apart. Now OmniFocus already has a nice review option by itself, but the iPhone app really brings the reviewing process to another level for me. Because reviewing and organizing your tasks in itself doesn't add to whatever you need to get done, it's a bit of a waste of your valuable office time that could be used for other things. This is where the iPhone comes in: it allows you to do the organizing of your tasks on idle moments when you could otherwise not do much else: in a taxi, on the subway, in a queue. Back in the office it will sync with your computer over WiFi and you're all set again!

 

 

 

These are just some of the ways OmniFocus can be deployed in daily busy work life. But besides some of the applications described above, I can highly recommend it as a gift. It's great to help other busy people you know straight from the "inbox-to-do-list" stage straight to the OmniFocus stage of organizing your tasks. They will instantly get it and they will be thankful forever :)

 

There was so much great stuff in Tim's email I pretty much included everything as is, and I hope you find it as interesting as I did! You can find Tim at his online marketing company, Yourzine, at his electronic music production company, Dancetrippin, or on LinkedIn. Thank you, Tim, for sharing your story with us.

30-day guarantee on Omni’s App Store apps

by Linda Sharps on April 7, 2010

Now that we have three products available from the App Store, certain things have changed about the way we do business. The access to our software has changed. The way we receive payment for our software has changed. The flexibility we've always had with regards to discounts has changed. 

We plan to continue developing for iPhone and iPad. As Ken wrote back in January, it's our intent to bring all five of our productivity applications to iPad. This means, obviously, that these aren't short-term business changes for us. 

It has always been Omni's policy to give you as much information as possible to help you make an informed purchasing decision, because we truly want you to be happy with what you buy. This is a core value of our company, which we prioritize in a number of ways. We try to make sure you have access to good resources and documentation. We provide free trials on all of our Mac software. We offer top-notch customer service, including phone support. We offer a 30-day guarantee on products sold from our online store, no questions asked.

Your satisfaction is every bit as important to us as the sale. 

We're not trying to say we don't need to make money, because we do. We need to pay our rent, pay our employees, help others when possible, save enough to make it through bad years, and in a good year, hopefully even have a little extra for profit sharing. Omni has limited resources to invest into our development work, and we do have to recoup those expenses or we can't continue offering the products that we do.

However, no one here wants you to buy something from us that you won't enjoy using. Our primary goals are to help you decide if our products are right for you before you buy, and to help make things right if you aren't happy after you buy.

To that end, we've made some decisions that are intended to help us continue to do business the way we want, even within this new distribution model. Starting today, we are offering the same 30-day money back guarantee on all of our iPhone and iPad apps as we do with our other software. This applies to OmniFocus for iPhone, OmniGraffle for iPad, and OmniGraphSketcher for iPad. If you find that you're unsatisfied with your purchase, email sales@omnigroup.com with a copy of your App Store receipt and the reason for return, and we'll refund your money.

Let's just be up front about the fact that this choice obviously opens us up to some risk. We pay 30% of our App Store sales to Apple whether or not we refund a purchase, for one thing. 

So why are we doing this? Because we want to give you the same confidence in buying our App Store software as you have when you buy our Mac software. Because it's important to us that we continue to provide the same support and service we always have. Because we believe the benefit outweighs the risk.

The 30-day guarantee isn't intended to take the place of a demo period. We do ask that you take the time to look at the product features, watch the videos, and ask questions before you make your purchase. If we haven't given you what you need to make a buying decision, please, tell us what would help. 

Finally, if one of our products doesn't seem right for you, we don't want to try and convince you otherwise. We'd love to hear why it isn't right for you, of course, because that's how we make improvements, but we don't want you to buy something you don't need. The ideal outcome for us is when you get amazing value from the applications we create. 

That is, after all, the real reason we do what we do. 

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We hope you know your comments and concerns are always welcome.

Aaron’s story: OmniGraffle

by Linda Sharps on April 5, 2010

Today's customer story comes from Aaron, who works as a problem solver for a large company that develops software for the healthcare industry.

(Side note: I have to admit I'm a little intimidated by someone whose actual job title involves solving problems. You know, speaking as someone who has on more than one occasion found herself shoving as hard as possible against a door clearly marked "PULL", just like that old Far Side cartoon.) 

Aaron writes,

I really love using diagrams as a way to help me think and keep my ideas organized.  When I was in college taking computer science classes, I used OmniGraffle to take notes.  You can't get through a computer science class without drawing a ton of diagrams, and with my lousy handwriting (and affinity for keeping everything neatly on my Mac for later use) I decided to give OmniGraffle a shot.  At first, it was very difficult to keep up with the professor writing diagrams on the whiteboard, but I quickly learned to use OmniGraffle's nifty keyboard shortcuts. I also made stencils for the most common building blocks of the data structures I was making diagrams of.  That, plus liberal use of copying and pasting, allowed me to efficiently take notes, and sometimes do it even more quickly than my classmates—it's common for something to get drawn on the board that's important, but then the professor erases a few parts and replaces those with new parts to make a whole new diagram.  On paper, this means quickly trying to draw your diagram again.  In OmniGraffle, it's a quick copy and paste. 

Here are a few screenshots of Aaron's old Graffle-created class notes:

 

 

He acknowledges these aren't necessarily the fanciest diagrams ever, and reminds us that when you're taking notes in class, you usually don't spend a ton of time making them super pretty. Totally understood! They look a heck of a lot nicer than MY class notes, which are typically covered in my pen doodle artistic specialty: the Tornado.

Just to show you what that last diagram could look like with a little fancifying, our User Experience Lead, Bill, took a few minutes to whip up a new version:

 

Coooooooooool.

 

Aaron adds that Graffle is also a fantastic general purpose layout program for designing GUI mockups, and shares one more example of his with us:

 

The thing I love about Graffle is that you can do almost anything with it.  Yes, it is marketed as a diagramming program, but it's also fantastic for doing desktop publishing layouts.  It's also a very respectable vector graphics drawing program, giving people the ability to quickly create things that might otherwise take a lot more effort in Illustrator.  It's beautiful to see how open ended it is.  

Now, most of the time company use case articles don't include anything other than glowing praise for the app in question, but we know that in real life software isn't 100% perfect 100% of the time. I asked Aaron if there was anything he would add to OmniGraffle if he could, and here's what he suggested:

Although I used Graffle to take notes, it's not a note-taking program, and there are some features that I'd love to see OmniGraffle have that would make it more conducive to Graffle-wielding notetakers like myself.  First, I'd like to have the ability to record classes and meetings with OmniGraffle and have the sound sync up with the edits I'm making to the document.  This would effectively eliminate my need to copy and paste diagrams just to show a progression of edits, and it would have made studying a heck of a lot easier.  You'd just have to hit play, and you're off!  Another thing that would be really cool to see in Graffle would be interactive collaboration on documents in real time (think Google Wave).  Perhaps it's a little out there, but the tools Graffle gives me to make awesome stuff are fantastic, and it makes me want to use them everywhere!

Cool suggestions, Aaron, and they've been entered in the Official Omni Bug Tracking System Which Also Tracks Feature Requests. 

Aaron tells us that now that his student days are behind him, he still keeps OmniGraffle in his arsenal of tools. 

The software I work with often has extensive relationships between different records that are used to configure the software, and if I'm troubleshooting an issue, I fire up OmniGraffle and diagram it out so I can keep my wits about me. 

Our software helps an official problem solver keep his wits about him, how awesome is that? 

Aaron can be found on Twitter at @harpaa01. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Aaron!

OmniGraphSketcher, OmniGraffle for iPad now available

by Linda Sharps on April 2, 2010

You know, you always think the countdown to a product launch is going to be exciting, but you forget about the part where it's actually just, you know, just kind of INSANE. Especially when the products in question are tied to a brand new hardware device. 

We are both thrilled and relieved to finally let you know that our first iPad apps, OmniGraffle and OmniGraphSketcher, are available on the App Store. If you're the sort who enjoys a tasty corporate press release, the officially-formatted mumbo jumbo is here (spoiler: it basically says OmniGraffle and OmniGraphSketcher for iPad are, wait for it, available on the App Store).

You can also read up on some of the reasons why we chose to develop for the iPad and how we went about doing so, check out the Macworld coverage on the new apps, and enjoy this Mashable list of their top 10 iPad apps they can't wait to use (#5, holla!).

We've also put together a little Q&A, for some questions we've legitimately been asked and some stuff we, ah, totally made up for the purpose of fleshing out this blog post. Ahem.

Can I download a trial of these apps?

Unfortunately, the App Store does not yet provide that option. 

So how am I supposed to figure out if I want them or not? 

Check out our website, where we've got overviews of both products as well as introductory videos. 

(Here's the OmniGraffle page and video, and the OmniGraphSketcher page and video.)

You could also download trial versions of the Mac apps if you'd like to get familiar with how they work in general. Obviously, it's going to be a different user experience on the iPad—one we hope you really enjoy!—but many of the features you can use on the Mac will be available on the iPad.

If you have any questions about how either app works, you're more than welcome to contact our wily Support Ninjas

I have the Mac version, can I get a discount on the iPad version?

We're generally happy to offer bundle pricing for products purchased through our own online store, but there's no way to do that when selling through the App Store. We've tried to make sure that each product is priced reasonably based on individual feature sets, and we hope you'll agree that both products become even more valuable when you use them together.

Can I open my existing OmniGraffle/OmniGraphSketcher documents on OmniGraffle/OmniGraphSketcher for iPad?

Yes! Currently the easiest way to transfer the documents created on the desktop to your iPad is via email.

I notice that OmniGraffle for iPad costs $50 and I think that's too much.

Well … that's not really a question, but to give you some background on our pricing decision, we followed a similar model to what Apple used for iWork, where there's a $79 suite on the desktop, and the iPad versions of the apps making up the suite now cost $30. OmniGraffle for iPad sells for half of what OmniGraffle for Mac costs.

Given the choice between two editions on the Mac, Standard for $99 and Pro for $199, twice as many of our customers choose Pro for $199.  (And before you think that's overpriced, if you wanted to buy a similar app for Windows you'd be looking at Visio–which retails at $259 for Standard and $559 for Pro.) $50 may be too much to spend on entertainment (although many console games cost more), but we don't intend OmniGraffle as a casual purchase: OmniGraffle for iPad is designed as a professional productivity tool, one which will make you more productive and will save you time and money every week.

We feel confident you will be happy with the depth of the feature set, pleasantly surprised by some brand-new options only available on the iPad, and overall find OmniGraffle for iPad to be a good value. As always, we welcome your feedback, so feel free to talk to us about any concerns you have!

Do I have to have an iPad to use these new apps?

It depends on how vivid of an imagination you have.

I'm sold! Where do I buy this stuff?

The App Store, natch. Here's the direct iTunes link for OmniGraffle, and for OmniGraphSketcher. We really hope you enjoy them. Happy iPadding!